Obstetric hospitalists can screen for postpartum depression


Postpartum depression (PPD) is the most common complication of pregnancy, and onset can occur at any time from pregnancy until up to 1 year post partum.1,2 The immediate postpartum period is a time during which care is shared among multiple providers for both mother and child, and the transition from inpatient to outpatient postpartum care can impede communication between those caring for the patient in each setting. In 2018, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists published a committee opinion emphasizing the importance of the “fourth trimester” and calling for health care providers to assist women in navigating the transition from pre- to postpartum care.3 An important consideration of perinatal care is mental health care for the mother, including screening and care for postpartum depression; however, the optimal role for the obstetric hospitalist in providing such services has been unclear.

Frustrated mother suffering from postpartum depression Highwaystarz-Photography/iStock/Getty Images

Estimates of the prevalence of PPD in new mothers in the United States varied by state from 8% to 20% in 2012, with an overall average of 12%.2 Left untreated, PPD may result in significant negative outcomes for women, their children, and families. The depressive symptoms of PPD may persist for months or years afterward,4 with one study finding elevated depressive symptoms in women up to 11 years post partum.5 Suicide is also a leading cause of pregnancy-related mortality associated with depressive symptoms.6-9 In addition, maternal postpartum depression symptoms have been associated with impaired mother-infant bonding at 6 months of age10 and decreased cognitive and fine motor development of children at 18 months.11

Importance of screening

Evidence from the literature shows that, without proper screening, approximately 50% of cases of PPD go undiagnosed, and that increasing the number of women being screened by perinatal providers is an important first step to improving outcomes.12-18 Current recommendations for the timing and frequency of screening for PPD vary among the published guidelines. ACOG recommends screening at least once during the perinatal period for depression and anxiety using a standardized, validated tool; an update of the ACOG committee opinion in 2018 also states: “It is recommended that all obstetrician-gynecologists and other obstetric care providers complete a full assessment of mood and emotional well-being (including screening for PPD and anxiety with a validated instrument) during the comprehensive postpartum visit for each patient.”19 The American Medical Association adopted new policies in 2017 promoting the implementation of a routine protocol for depression screening of perinatal women.20 The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends more frequent screening, with assessments at the 1-, 2-, 4-, and 6-month visits.21 Finally, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for depression in the general population including pregnant and postpartum women.22

Multiple standardized, validated screening instruments are available for detecting possible symptoms of PPD, including the most widely used tools: the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS)19,23 and the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9).24 Two recent studies have shown that screening women for symptoms of PPD with a validated tool may reduce the duration or severity of depressive symptoms,25,26 further reinforcing the need to ensure that women experiencing symptoms of PPD are identified and treated early.

The inpatient hospitalization for labor, delivery, and birth of a child has not traditionally been viewed as an opportunity for PPD screening. While private practitioners and obstetric medical group practices typically have inquired about and documented the individual patient’s mental health history and risk factors for PPD, the obstetric hospitalist is most commonly meeting a patient in labor or in a postpartum encounter for the first time. As obstetric practices grow ever more consolidated, and as obstetric hospitalist care is implemented for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to, preventing burnout among private practitioners, serving as a safety net for all inpatient obstetric services, and increasing standardization in obstetric triage and obstetric emergency departments, the obstetric hospitalist is in a unique position to assist in screening women during an inpatient admission.

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